You may have heard of shockwave therapy from your health care provider or while searching for treatment options on the Internet. The outcomes for this treatment approach are very promising and you may be wondering if Shockwave therapy is the answer for your sore shoulder, back, hip or ankle. The best way to know is to book an appointment with one of our registered physiotherapists to have an assessment but here is a closer look at an exciting new option for therapy.
What is shockwave therapy?
A shockwave is a strong energy pulse that is generated in such a short time that it breaks the sound barrier. Therapeutic shockwave machines generate shockwaves in a controlled and focused manner, allowing them to be used on specific areas of the body. The goal of this therapy is to stimulate a healing response in chronically injured and painful tissue.
How does shockwave therapy work?
Shockwave therapy works by three different mechanisms as the shockwaves enter the affected tissue.
- Physical pressure and tension from the shockwave itself cause an inflammatory response and increased cellular circulation in the local area, which speeds up the local healing process.
- Microscopic water droplets in the tissue expand and explode (a process called cavitation) due to the intensity of the shockwave-causing breakdown of calcium deposits and scar tissue.
- As these water droplets explode they expel streams of water called microjets with considerable force. This force also causes breakdown of calcium deposits.
A single water droplet explosion or microjet won’t have an affect on the body but when shockwave therapy is applied it causes hundreds of microjets with a single shockwave pulse and hundreds of thousands over the course of a single treatment.
There is also a local analgesic effect of shockwave therapy. It overstimulates local nerve endings so that after a treatment they are less active in transmitting pain messages.
What is shockwave therapy good for?
Shockwave therapy is one of the few technologies that is able to re-stimulate healing in chronic injuries. It causes an inflammatory response and increased blood flow in the affected area, allowing healing to proceed. Studies have shown shockwave therapy to be most helpful in treating:
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
- Medial Epicondylitis (Golfers Elbow)
- Calcifying Tendonitis of the Shoulder
- Patellar Tendinopathy
- Achilles Tendinopathy
- Hamstring Tears and Tendonitis
- And Many More Conditions….
What can I expect during and after a treatment?
Shockwave treatment can be noisy. The pressure inside the machine that creates the waves also creates a firm, repetitive knocking sound. The sensation of the treatment can be intense and somewhat uncomfortable, but bearable. If the treatment is not bearable the settings can be adjusted to decrease the intensity. The treatment lasts approximately 10 minutes and the therapist will be constantly monitoring your status and comfort level.
After a treatment you should refrain from the use of ice or anti-inflammatory medication. These will interfere with the healing response created by the treatment. Also you should decrease your activity level to only light activity (of the treatment area) for the next 48 hours so as to not disturb the healing tissue. It is normal for some pain to linger 2-4 hours after treatment, and sometimes up to 48 hours. In rare cases it can last up to 5 days.
There are some possible adverse effects of shockwave therapy but they are rare and usually short lived. These are: tingling, aching, redness, and/or bruising of the affected area.
How many treatments will I need?
Usually only 3-5 treatments are necessary, and it is possible that it will take up to 3-4 months to see the full benefits of the treatment. We recommend improving your muscle imbalances and joint restrictions at the same time in order to improve the biomechanics of the limb.
Is there any time shockwave therapy is not recommended?
Yes, there are certain situations where it should not be applied:
- Over a growth plate in children or adolescents
- If you have hemophilia or any blood coagulation disorder
- If you are taking blood thinners (Heparin, Coumadin)
- If you have cancer, diabetes, or are pregnant
- If you have had a cortisone injection in the area in the past 6 weeks